Still Suffering and Smiling

Every day my people dey inside bus
Every day my people dey inside bus
Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing
Them go pack themselves in like sardine
Them dey faint, them dey wake like cock
Them go reach house, water no dey
Them go reach bed, power no dey
Them go reach road, go-slow go come
Them go reach road, police go slap
Them go reach road, army go whip
Them go look pocket, money no dey
Them go reach work, query ready

Every day na the same thing
Every day na the same thing
Every day na the same thing
Every day na the same thing

Suffer, suffer for world…

Suffering and Smiling, Fela, 1978

You can’t fully understand any music unless you go where it originates and understand the environment it sprang out of.  I’ve found a new thick layer of meaning for Fela here.  Prior to my coming, Fela’s words echoed a universal truth about the downtrodden around the globe and the (usually governmental) oppressive forces that make those people downtrodden.  But being here, you suddenly absorb the local context — you are dealt the full impact of the daily struggles Lagosians face — and why that tension would’ve prompted an outrageous musical response from someone like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, knowing who he was and the background he came from.family_trash

Go to a slum like Bariga.  I spent four hours Saturday morning, prior to visiting the air conditioned Century 21 Mall, with my crew and a couple of locals showing us around the neighborhood.

Bariga sits on the Leeki lagoon on the Lagos mainland, just to the west of the Third Mainland Bridge.  It has seemingly resigned itself to being surrounded by filth.  Bariga has spread into the lagoon, first atop a thick landfill of mostly garbage and sand. 

The human sprawl then spills into the water, where descendants of the Tofinu people from Benin (the ethnic group that settled the famous village-on-stilts of Ganvie in Benin not far to the west of Lagos along the Gulf of Guinea) have built their own village on stilts, in this mega-urban setting.mami_water  At first glance, it seems that fishing families, squeezed by necessity and the outward push from the neighborhood, have gotten the short end of the stick, and are now hanging on for dear life between the lagoon and the traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge.  But compared to the part of Bariga that’s developed on top of festering trash, the fishing community feels calm, even quaint, even though people there wash and cook with lagoon water in which you see frequent evidence of human waste.

A listen to “Suffering and Smiling”  doesn’t explain though why a lot of these people in Bariga don’t explode in anger at their government.  Maybe the levels of dysfunction in Nigerian society have simply become so entrenched, so much a part of life, that to not accept them would be to handicap one’s own chance of getting ahead.  And that makes “Suffering and Smiling” more relevant than ever.






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